Pastoral Care and Leadership - Lesson 17

Pastoral Leadership and Conflict (Part 1)

Conflict is part of our lives anytime we are interacting with other people. According to Alan Redpath, if you are a pastor you are always in crisis, either in the middle of one, coming out of one or going into one. Reasons for conflict include that it’s part of life, the role of a leader, your personal growth, change, style, staff, budgets, preaching and uninspiring results. People often don’t like change, but effective leaders require change to make improvements. Your style of leadership can create conflict because of the expectations of people in your congregation, or what they are accustomed to.

John  Johnson
Pastoral Care and Leadership
Lesson 17
Watching Now
Pastoral Leadership and Conflict (Part 1)

Pastoral Leadership and Conflict (Part 1)

I. Introduction

A. Eugene Peterson description of a "bandlands" time in his life

B. The reality of conflict we face

C. Conflicts we remember

1. The Philippine crisis

2. Ecclesiastes crisis

3. Former pastor crisis

II. Reasons for Conflict

A. It's part of life

B. Because of your leadership role

C. God allows it for our personal growth

III. The Need to Address Conflict

A. Conflict can deplete you if it's not resolved

B. Conflict can distract us

C. Conflict can derail you if not resolved

IV. Respond to Conflict with Wisdom

A. Aversion to change

B. Style of leadership

C. Style of worship

D. Staffing issues

E. Budget decisions

F. Preaching

G. Question about expecting and knowing how to deal with conflict

  • Being a shepherd to a congregation includes the responsibility to protect, provide and lead. A church is a group of believers that is incorporated into one body and adopted into a family. The church has a mission to go after truth, respond to truth, love one another and share their faith. The pastor is called to care for and lead the congregation in the process. 

  • Convergence is where your greatest passion, giftedness and abilities line up with the greatest opportunity. When managing your time, don't measure your success only in how busy you are. God has not called to do, but to be. Be on a lifelong journey of becoming so you have a reservoir to give from in both your relationships and your preaching. 

  • Visiting people in their homes is an important part of your ministry as a shepherd. Keep track of who you visit and take notes. Have a plan for a meaningful conversation. As you know people personally, it will make a difference in how you preach and how you pray for people. Pray that the Lord will lead you in what to say and be aware that you may often experience something unexpected. 

  • Jesus devoted part of his ministry to the sick, so you as a pastor should, also. God's not interested in taking us back to where we were, but he's always interested in taking us where we need to go. Sometimes being sick and experiencing pain causes us to focus our attention on God. Call the elders to pray for physical and spiritual healing. Part of the misery of sickness is often solitude. When you visit people in the hospital, be timely, expectant and careful with your words. 

  • In your older years, letting go of life can be difficult if people are not realistic about accepting the inevitability of their own death. The process of dying often helps you sift out the trivial. As you approach death, life often seems to become a series of medical tests, interruptions and uncertainty. If someone begins to lose their sense of identity, remind them that God is good and perfectly wise in everything he does, and that he is powerful. In a Christian context, there is every place for grief but no place for despair. 

  • Help the family plan and carry out the services they want in a way that honors both the dead person and their relatives and friends. Help the family navigate the details regarding what kind of services, who should speak, whether the casket will be open or closed whether people should give flowers or donate to a charity, etc. When you are planning what you will say, take into account special circumstances like murder, suicide or someone who may not have assurance of their relationship to God.

  • With the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, there is something happening beyond the surface that is sacred and divine. In the act of communion, we should experience an empowering grace. We look back to the Passover when God led the nation of Israel out of Egypt. We look back to Jesus' death on the cross. We celebrate our present communion with God by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We look forward to the consummation of all things in the future. 

  • How often should you practice communion? Who should be allowed to participate? Should you use wine or grape juice? Should it be done at home or always at church? Should it always be with the whole corporate body? Should communion be part of a wedding ceremony? When should it be in the order of service? As a pastor, how do you deal with serving communion to people you know are struggling in their lives?

  • Baptism is a sacred ceremony so you as a pastor should treat it with care. People have different views on baptism as it relates to who should participate, the mode used and it’s function as a means of grace or ordinance. Dr. Johnson says that baptism doesn’t produce change, it announces change. As one way to prepare for their baptism, the person who is being baptized can write out their testimony in a way that people who aren’t believers can understand it.

  • There has been a disintegration of the institute of marriage in the American culture over the past 60 years. People in our culture today traditionally get married in a church. Meet with the couple before you agree to marry them. Have procedures and policies in place for use of the church building and your involvement. Suggest that the couple choose one of the following passages as the main focus of the wedding ceremony: Col 3:12-14; I Cor 13:4-7; Phil 2:1-4; Gen 2:24-25; Ecc 4:10-13.

  • Discipleship was an essential part of Jesus’s ministry and a significant part of the early church. Be deliberate about spending time with people that are leaders and potential leaders that are living their lives to follow after God. The heart of congregational accountability is being involved in soul care for each other. Admonition is rebuke and correction that calls people back. Part of admonition is corrective preaching that is done with the right motives and in the right way. Membership requires sacrifice to join others in a battle with others who see themselves as investors not consumers. You, as a pastor, are accountable to protect, guide, encourage, comfort and admonish. In the process of confrontation, it’s important to have a commitment to mutual understanding, to do everything in love, aim for reconciliation, to be proactive, do all for God’s glory, to be a peacemaker and for reconciliation and closure.

  • Attention to administration is critical to the health of a church. By administrating effectively, you will have more time for other activities. A certain amount of administration cannot be delegated. Historically, three models for church structure are the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Congregationalist. Churches need to be led by effective leaders.

  • The organization should always serve the organism. In some churches, the pastoral responsibilities are carried out by one or more of the elders, and in some, the pastor position is distinct from the elders. It’s important for you to make sure that the elders are qualified and that they carry out the duties for which they are responsible.  Recognize the structure in your church and your place in it so you know how to relate to people in a way that helps you to lead effectively.

  • Create a culture with a fundamental value of training and becoming leaders. Establish clear qualifications of those who will lead. Create productive meetings that avoid intimidation and manipulation, avoidance of tough issues, personal attacks, digression from the agenda, hot button issues without proper preparation, too much time on money or people issues, leaving the vision and mission out of discussions, people who monopolize and dominate meetings and insistence on unanimity. Have a clear succession plan in place for board members. The staff has the role of daily managing and shepherding and the board focuses on mission and vision.  

  • Determine reporting relationships and a structure for accountability. Develop effective staff meetings. Meetings should be regular, clear agenda, predictable time frame, participation, encouragement, focus on the mission vision and operational plan, informational, innovation, nurturing, praying together, discerning and sensitive to cultures. Establish personnel policies including a staff assessment plan and a release plan. 

  • Assessments are important because God calls us to be fruitful as well as faithful.  Effective ministry requires metrics because it helps you address real needs. A church’s mission should include pursue truth, respond to truth, mature the saint, love one another and reach lost people. What is your expectation of outcomes? What would it look like if you gave a final exam each year to determine what people could remember and what they have put in practice from your sermons? The difference between an organization that is good, and one that is great, is discipline.

  • Conflict is part of our lives anytime we are interacting with other people. According to Alan Redpath, if you are a pastor you are always in crisis, either in the middle of one, coming out of one or going into one. Reasons for conflict include that it’s part of life, the role of a leader, your personal growth, change, style, staff, budgets, preaching and uninspiring results. People often don’t like change, but effective leaders require change to make improvements. Your style of leadership can create conflict because of the expectations of people in your congregation, or what they are accustomed to.

  • Accept notes from people about situations in the church, only if they are willing to sign them. Work to gain trust. Don’t assume that people being kind to you at first means they trust you. Help people become dissatisfied with the same things you are. What got you here won’t get you there. As you create a culture for change, demonstrate that you respect the past and leave some things the same if they are working. Encourage people to accept and value your strengths and be patient with your weaknesses. Develop and teach a clear theology of worship. Worship is response to revelation. If you can articulate a theology of worship, it helps reduce the conflict about styles of worship. Focus on the mission and vision of the church to help avoid conflicts about finances. Teach people how to disagree without making it personal.

  • The Pastor’s job is to equip people to do the work of the ministry. Decide on and communicate the mission and vision of the church that the people support. Create a process to assimilate people. Have a clear entry point and subsequent steps for maturity and involvement. There are 4 historical models for how the Church relates to the world. 1. The church separate from the world to stay pure, and attempting to attract outsiders. 2. The Church in the world to be relevant to people. 3. The Church over the world attempts to gain power and position to control the government structures. 4. The Church engaging the world is being salt and light in the world without separating, compromising or trying to control the structures.

  • If you manage your own finances well, it will be easier for people in the church to trust you to manage the finances of the church. Teach your congregation principles of how to manage money and how to give wisely.

  • Designated giving can undermine the budgeting process. Faith-promise offerings can sometimes be helpful practically, but they can also create a false hierarchy of giving categories. Create a budget driven by the mission and vision of your church. Establish procedures and check to make sure people are following them. Conduct periodic audits to avoid embezzlement. Make the salaries one line item in the budget but don’t discuss the salary of an individual in a public meeting.

  • What got you here won’t get you there. Read current publications to keep up on culture. People like Stuart Murray suggest strategies for connecting with people in this post-Christendom era. Balance the tension between tradition and innovation. Evaluate why people are coming to your church as well as why they leave. Engage the world but don’t become like the world.

  • How you manage transition is a critical aspect of leadership. Manage your present ministry by keeping in mind that, “Success is not measured by what you are leaving to go to, but by what you are leaving behind.” “Every congregation is a congregation of sinners and worst of all, they have pastors who are sinners.” When circumstances in your ministry are difficult, it may be the time to stay and learn important lessons about you and your congregation, not necessarily to leave right away.

Are you a pastor? Are you studying to be a pastor? Are you a leader in your church and you want to encourage your pastor? As a pastor, what does it mean to care for your congregation? How do you do it well? What does it mean to be a good leader? What character traits can you develop? What relational, motivational, spiritual and educational strategies can you use to become an effective leader and develop leaders in your church? 

In Pastoral Care and Leadership, you have the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Johnson as he relates what he has learned, experienced and taught over the past three decades. What a great opportunity you have to learn about how to lead and care for people in your congregation from someone like Dr. Johnson who is thoughtful, relational, highly trained, a talented communicator as a seminary professor and experienced as a pastor who served for more than a total of 30 years at three distinctly different churches. 

In this class you will learn how to:

Care for yourself and others;

Deal with sickness and death;

Celebrate the Lord's Supper and Baptism;

Lead a wedding service;

Relate to the board and staff;

Grow from conflict

Handle your own money wisely, and the church's;

Transition the church forward with innovation.

Learning to care for yourself is critical. Understanding who you are and how you apply your gifts, abilities and training is an important place to start. Getting enough rest, being deliberate about your relationship with God and responding to his leading, and nurturing your family and your friendships helps you to have the emotional and relational energy you need to encourage and comfort the people in your congregation. As a pastor, you are often invited to be a part of some of the most memorable and intimate events in peoples' lives. You are welcomed into their homes to get to know them and pray for them. You are in the "front row" for weddings, baptisms, baby dedications and funerals. Dr. Johnson gives you some specific direction based on his training and experiences to help you know what to say and to make these times meaningful and encourage people in their relationship with the Lord in the process. 


As you begin to lead a church, find out about the history, structure and culture of the church. Work with the governing board to determine mission and vision so that when you hire and work with staff members, you can all agree on a common direction. Choose strategies that are innovative and effective. Decide on metrics so that you can measure the results. Continue what works and make changes by learning from your failures. Remember that, "what got you here, won't get you there." Avoid unnecessary conflict by fostering an environment where you set clear expectations and goals, practice regular accountability and show care for people by expecting the best and listening well. When there is conflict, have the conversation with the people involved, focus on the issue at hand, avoid personal attacks and strive for reconciliation. In the area of finances, be a good example of handling your own finances by being disciplined, shrewd, wise and planning well. Manage the church finances by encouraging the budget priorities to match the mission and vision that the congregation, board and staff agree on. Set up procedures to prevent misuse of funds and be relentless to make sure they are followed. When it's time for a transition, leave well by having already mentored other leaders and by creating separation so the church can move on. 


Recommended Books

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

Are you a pastor? Are you studying to be a pastor? Are you a leader in your church and you want to encourage your pastor? As a pastor, what does it mean to care for your...

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

I. Introduction

We are talking about conflict and conflict is – I don’t need to tell you – in pastoral ministry, it comes part and parcel with it.

A. Eugene Peterson, description of a “bandlands” time in his life

One of my favorite people that I have read over the years – I think I have read every book he has written – is Eugene Peterson. He has been a mentor source to me. One of the great privileges I had about two years ago was to drive over from our cabin up in northeast Washington to Flathead Lake and spend a couple of hours with him. I will never forget that.

One of his very wonderful books in my life is “The Pastor,” his memoir he wrote near the end of his life. He talks about conflict throughout the book because he spent many, many years as a pastor. He has one particular chapter in which he talks about going to the monasteries; and how, of course being the contemplative he was, he often found it healing for him.

He tells one humorous story. As he was going through what he called “the badlands,” just making the point that every pastor goes through the badlands, he was at this monastery, this particular one with nuns, being ministered to and going through reflection and healing and all. I will probably get in trouble for reading this, but I do think it is funny.

“In one of our conversations a sister must have detected in my language that betrayed a certain romanticizing notion I had developed regarding her convent of nuns. Vowed to a life of prayer, protected from the noise and interruptions of the outside world, a holy community and a holy place. Of course, pastors sometimes, especially when you are dealing with congregations and the messiness, would just love to go to a community of healing and a holy place and live the rest of your life there. She said to me, ‘Eugene, is it difficult to be married?’ I replied, ‘Well, yes, it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I lived 25 years as the center of my universe and then suddenly I was no longer the center. There was another, Jan, who had been accustomed to being the center. It took us both by surprise. You can’t have two centers. Yes, it is difficult, why do you ask?’” She asked, “Well, how would you like to be married to 13 women? Some of these nuns can be real bitches.” So much for the romanticizing of the co

ntemplative life.

I think he was using some humor to make the point that there is going to be conflict wherever we go, whether it is in our marriages or whether it is in our convent, or whether it is in churches. He spends quite a bit of time reflecting on the badlands period of his ministry. He planted this church in Bel Air?_____03:21.8 Maryland and they finally built a building. All through this and after building the building that, as he put it, “the badlands” occurred, that lasted six years. He writes later to say, “The badlands, this desert time, for probing the interior of my pastoral vocation, continued to do its work. I was getting into the guts of who I was as a person. I was leaving the performance mode in which I had done pretty well up until then.”

I think we can identify with that. We all go through the badlands. That is important to say because I think when we are in the badlands, when we are in conflict, we can feel like “it is just me.” No, it is us. It is all of us. But it can be a time of great introspection, which we will talk about a little bit later.

B. The reality of conflict we face

I want to first of all talk about the reality of conflict that we face. It was Alan Redpath who once said, “Struggle, discord, infighting, is just part of ministry.” You are a minister. You are always in a crisis. You are either in the middle of one, you’re coming out of one, or you are about to enter into one. In fact, a Fuller Seminary study noted that 75% of pastors described a significant stress-related crisis in ministry. I am assuming the other 25% are dishonest, or not so transparent.

We know we are in good company, not only because we can get together with pastors and we will all end up sharing our war stories from time to time. We also know we are in good company because when we look into Scripture, there is conflict from the very beginning: From Adam and Eve, to Cain and Abel, to Esau and Jacob, then Jacob and Laban, and Moses and Miriam, and David and Saul, and Nehemiah and his enemies, and Paul and Barnabas. Everybody, it almost seems. Paul dealt with conflict in almost every church. You see this especially in the Corinthian correspondence and the Philippian correspondence.

C. Conflicts we remember

I stopped for a moment, and I think in my three churches there were various conflicts; but then I think we can all probably point to “the conflict.” In each of my three churches there was “the conflict.” In my first church I call it “the Philippine crisis.” I’m not going to go into a long story, but my predecessor left to go to the mission field; found a child for a family in my church who were childless, could not have children. It was wonderful. They brought this orphan over; and in the process of the transition, they had gotten very close to this orphan and decided they would adopt the child, rather than give it to this family in my church. Now I was dealing with this family and this former pastor. I call that the Philippine crisis. It was very difficult. I was really in a no-win situation because the church was perfectly split between those who still wanted whatever the pastor wanted, and those who were with the family that felt betrayed. That was tough.

At my second church I will call it the Ecclesiastes crisis. Everything was going pretty well until I preached the Book of Ecclesiastes. There were a number of Europeans that never forgave me for preaching a book by some hedonist, narcissist. What am I doing preaching out of Ecclesiastes? I should be preaching Jesus.

In my last church I will call it the former pastor crisis, in that I was the pastor who came on the heels of my predecessor, who was sort of what you might call an interim. It was not supposed to be that way, but actually a lot of times after a long, long pastorate, the next pastor ends up being sort of an interim. That left quite a mess. When I came, I had to deal with a lot of people who were in conflict.

The point is, conflict just comes with the territory. I think it was Gary Will?_____(07:56.8) who said, “Leadership is a feud.” It is always a feud. We find ourselves in a contest of wills. Ruth Haley Barden?_____(08:05.0) said, “The leader always gets voted off the island.” That is just the way it is.

II. Reasons for Conflict

I have listed six, at least to start with, at least to get us warmed up to this. Why is there so much conflict?

A. It’s part of life

It is part of life, for one. We know this. Galations 5:17, “The flesh sets itself against the Spirit.” Secondly, it is part of our twisted desires, our self-centeredness. Third, we are in a war, so we shouldn’t be surprised. It is a little bit like someone from Westmont College who wrote an article some years ago in which he talked about conflict and pastors and reminded them, “We are in a war. When you are in the trenches and people are shooting, you don’t step out and go, ‘Hey, that is hurting my feelings.’ It’s part of being in the war.”

B. Because of your leadership role

Some will come because of maybe our style or a leadership approach, our role, if you will. I have discovered, people don’t like people out in front sometimes. It just comes with it. We step in and realize we have stepped into someone’s turf. That happens. It happens because we are confronting people. We have to do this. We have to admonish, as we talked about earlier. That comes with conflict.

Sometimes we have brought it on ourselves. We do stupid things. We mismanage our time, or we don’t work really well with the board, or we bring change for change sake. You want to get people angry? Just change things up just to be change agents.

C. God allows it for our personal growth

Here is a big reason I think why we are in conflict. God is shaping us and refining us. I hate the conflict but I must say, I like what it does for me.

I was in my second church recently and came face to face with one of my real nemesis. I think I can say, he was probably the most difficult man in my life. There he was, sitting there in church. I had come back after years, and I was preaching. Actually , he came up and we had a very pleasant conversation. Part of me wanted to say, “Do you realize what havoc and hell you created in my life?” But the other part of me wanted to say, “Thank you.” I became a different pastor. I did. God used that struggle. Scripture tells us that this is what God does, he refines us and He is maturing us. So, that is part of the reason.

III. The Need to Address Conflict

There are these reasons for conflict. That leads to what I want to talk about for a just a couple of moments, and that is the need to address conflict. We can’t sweep it under the rug. We can’t be avoiders. Some of us tend to.

A. Conflict can deplete you if it’s not resolved

The point, is conflict can deplete us if it is not resolved. It can wear us out. It can really wear us out. ?Fleming_____(11:43.9) once said, “Energy is the leader’s currency.” That is an interesting statement. I think he is right. Energy is the leader’s currency. If conflict depletes us and sucks away our energy, it sucks away our leadership.

B. Conflict can distract us

Conflict can also distract us and that is why we need to address it. It can turn us inward. It can distort reality. It can cause us to fail to see the really good things. We begin to turn in. I remember on some of my harder days, my wife would say, “John, you’re not the fun person you used to be.” I wasn’t. I became very serious, sometimes morose, certainly distracted.

C. Conflict can derail you if not resolved

Here is the third reason we need to address it, it can just derail us. It is like hitting black ice. It can keep us from fulfilling our calling.

I remember a pastor once, I asked him how his ministry was going and he said, “You know, I think for the most part it is going really well, except for three people in my church, and they keep me up at night.” It doesn’t take very much and then we get derailed if we’re not careful.

IV. Respond to Conflict with Wisdom

Here is the fourth thing in your notes. I want to talk a little bit about some of these issues that lead to conflict and go a little bit deeper. Why do we face conflict in the church? What is it with pastors and congregations?

A. Aversion to change

The first one is, aversion to change. Let’s think about leaders. Leaders by nature, or at least by definition, should be missional, they should be visionary, and they should be strategic, and they should be tactical. If they are all of those things, then there is going to be change. Change and leadership are a mutual journey together. The problem is, where there is change, there is conflict. Because I have found that people do not like change.

My first church, I will always remember this, a couple came up to me – actually he was on the search committee – an older, seasoned, Godly leader in the church. He was on the board. He said to me, “Pastor, it is your two-year anniversary tonight. Did you realize, it has been two years today you came to our church. My wife and I want you to know tonight, we have forgiven you.” I said, “I’m sorry.” “Yes, we decided, it has been two years, it has been long enough. Remember when you took the Power Magazine out of the worship folder? We used to love to read that magazine. You remember when you took it away.” I said, “No, Carl, actually, you remember, I didn’t take it away. I just simply set it aside so you could read it after the service was over.” I remember thinking afterwards, “It took two years to forgive me for simply putting a Power Magazine aside so people could focus on worship.” It seems now really quite petty.

The reality is, it was change. People in this particular church did not like change at all. The problem is, you see, it is the perfect storm because leaders by definition are transformational. If we are leaders, we don’t come in to maintain the status quo, that is not what leaders do. In fact, true leaders have an aversion to stale air. They come in and they sniff and go, It’s musty in this place. We need to open the windows. This is what transformational leaders do. They come into these institutions and people want them just to maintain things and turn on the lights and turn them off, but please turn them on and off the same way; when the reality is, we’ve been called to kind of mess with people’s routines.

So, we start changing up things. We realize we have to change the staff. We have to change the worship order of things. We need to change these procedures. We need to give a different emphasis to the ministry. This is what leaders do and they take risks and they brave the black ghosts of the unfamiliar. They do this because they recognize the perils of stagnancy and redundancy and institutionalization.

What happens in churches? They are supposed to be movements, right? You come, especially out of seminary, I was fairly fresh out of seminary. I wanted to grab a tiger by the tail, I wanted to be part of a movement. I came in so excited, ready to change the world; and I hit this wall of resistance to change, even as I say, to worship folders. I realized, if people can’t handle a change in worship folders, I’ve got a long road ahead, because I see things that are a lot more serious that have to be changed. But change has this potential to create crisis.

B. Style of leadership

Here is the second thing that is behind why there is conflict, as I go a little bit deeper, it is just the style of leadership. Sometimes it is our style people begin to push back. They have been used to someone else, maybe someone who has a different temperament, a different approach, a different pulpit style, different mannerisms, a different approach to leadership, a type of personality. Often it is not about personality, it is about power. Some will prefer a leader that fits into the temperament they have been used to.

It is like a man when I was candidating in my first church. This big German man grabbed my hand and he said, “I want to know just one thing, are you going to be a leader?” I remember thinking, yes? Here is what I learned over the years with people like that. They want to know, are you going to take the bull by the horns? Are you going to lead with passion and courage, to fulfill their agenda? That is really what is behind that a lot of times.

C. Style of worship

Obviously one of the issues is the style of worship. It probably provokes as much conflict as anything I know in the church. Traditionalists versus the emerging; choruses versus hymns; contemporary versus traditional; drums versus organ; status quo versus imaginative change.

My first church was sort of blended. It sounds nice. Let’s just bring this mix. I discovered after 10 years of leading a church with blended music, everybody is unhappy. You can’t satisfy everyone. I had people – and I’m sure it was not unique to my church – that would actually count every Sunday, how many verses. I remember a man – in fact, I can still remember his first name, Harry. I can almost say he accosted me one Sunday morning. He pinned me literally against the back wall of the sanctuary with his long, bony finger and he pressed it into my sternum, though it almost felt like it was coming out my back. He said, “There were three more choruses, stanzas, than hymns. That has to change.” I thought, these guys are bringing their calculators and keeping track. These worship wars that people get into. I think it has provoked as much conflict as anything I’ve seen in the church.

I am telling you things that you know. I am not informing you, but just letting you know that as I think about what is behind this, I’ve been there too.

D. Staffing issues

Sometimes it is with people who have problems with the staff you are building, or your own staff, it is themselves with whom you have conflict. A staff who becomes disloyal. Maybe it is staff you have inherited, who you are not sure they are going to really be there with you; people outside who want a more controlling say in who should be your staff.

E. Budget issues

Certainly, budget issues is another. There will always be a crisis with budgets because in most churches, at least in churches I have pastored, there are always too many competing voices and needs versus the actual resources we have. Tight budgets can become conflict based and they can drain you and wear you out, like a grain of sand in the sole of a shoe. Sometimes dealing with perpetual deficits and trying to keep everyone happy here, who are all competing for the resources can create a certain amount of conflict.

F. Preaching

Preaching certainly has its own conflicts. The expectations of how one should preach, how someone should approach the text, how long someone should preach, the selection of the text, the use of humor.

I will list one more, the unimpressive metrics than can lead to conflict. The lack of growth, the plateau, the decline. You did not intend for that to be so.

Maybe I could summarize it this way: The pain of expectations that are not met. Of course, when it comes to expectations, the expectation of a pastor’s identity, everybody has their own image of who a pastor should be, or what a pastor should do. It is really difficult. This is one of the things I teach in another course. You have to theologically make sure you have become clear in your heart and mind with the nature of who a pastor is called to be. If you don’t have a clear theological identity, you will tend to try to meet people’s expectations. What you have to do is have a clear sense of who you are, so you can say to people, “That is not who I am. I’m sorry, I’m not a therapist. I’m not a peace officer. I’m not an arbiter. I’m not a judge. I’m not a coach.” You could go down a long list.

I remember, after my tenth year of ministry, I was moving into my second church. I had moved to Europe and all of the things we owned had not gotten across the ocean yet, my books or anything. I sat in this empty office in this old Dutch Reformed Church. There was nothing I could point to that would identify me because it was a barren office. For the first time in my life I sat down and I thought to myself, I have no idea who I am. I have let people for10 years define me and I have tried to please them and meet their expectations. I was there and sat down and over the next year I wrote an article that was published on the identity of a pastor. It became the grid I used from that point on to filter every expectation through. Part of our conflict comes with trying to please people.

In our next session we are going to talk about how we start to deal with these conflicts.

G. Questions about expecting and knowing how to deal with conflict

Question: It is not so much a question. It is that it would be interesting just to poll pastors on the kinds of conflict they have had. You can tell stories and especially seminarians would probably think, No, that will never happen to me. The list can be so long.

Emily and I go to the same church. She is involved in worship and we have some _____25:31.5 versus choruses, and reports to the board.

I had a man in my church who, if the song only had three musical keys, I got an earful. I would tell him that I don’t even know what a key is. He would go on and on, “It only has three keys.” I had a gal come up, she had been in the church three weeks. I was preaching on the Sermon on the Mount and she grabbed me between services and said, “You need to be preaching Romans.” I said, “I think Jesus is enough.”

I don’t think that seminarians grasp the fact that this is what life is. When I taught at Gordon-Conwell, I used to play basketball with some students and some pastors in the area. One of them was the pastor where Haddon Robinson was in his church. Haddon is one of the top homiletics experts in the world, he was. I asked him one day, “What is your distribution of time?” I assumed with Haddon there, this guy was going to have to really be working on his sermons. Not that Haddon would be critical, or anything, but it is just like you, you are talking to the man. He said, “I spend about 75% of my time in conflict resolution.” In a church of 150 people, and he spends most of his time dealing with people who are unhappy with other people.

I wish there was a way that in our seminaries at least, we could really convince our students that this is the reality of life, and you are probably not ever going to get fired if you can’t parse a Greek word, but you will get fired if you don’t handle conflict. I don’t know if there is a way to do that in our educational system.

Dr. Johnson: I think all you can do is talk about the badlands and help people see that it is not isolated, you are in good company and help them with some basic skills of dealing with conflict.

This is going to sound like a simplistic answer, and I don’t mean for it to sound this way, but I have a certain optimism that if we can keep people focused on the right things and trained to do the right things, it does not guarantee that there won’t be conflict, but I think that a lot of conflict could be minimized if the people were more skilled and trained, for example, on the essentials of theology. To say, let’s get beyond our practice here. Let’s try to see this from maybe a greater angle, looking at it from God’s. That is where at least we can establish common ground a lot of times. Because I think a lot of people, certainly not all, but a lot of people want to feel like, “Let’s see if we can go back more to the headwaters. If we can agree there, then that can settle a lot of things.” I just think we end up fighting a lot down here. What I want to do is get people back here. I will illustrate that a little bit in this next session.